Thursday, January 27, 2011

Upcoming Talks @ Knox Presbyterian

In February I've been asked to come and speak to the congregation of Knox Presbyterian in Ottawa. I will be sharing for two nights, Feb. 6th and 20th, on the relationship we have with scripture. The official title is The Book of the People, which is a shortened from what I was originally thinking: The Book of the People; the People of the Book. The phrase People of the Book comes from my Muslim friends, it is a way I've heard them describe Christians and Jews. But what strikes me about it is that I am convinced that Christians are becoming less and less the People of the Book - meaning that the importance of scripture is waning. It isn't that there are less appeals to scripture, it has to do with the role of scripture in our midst. Scripture is not seen as the authority, but is used to validate authority. What I mean by that is that scripture is used to bolster our pet ideas and make our ideological stances with little regard for the text itself. It is used as a tool. I think this is backwards. Scripture isn't a tool. Scripture is much more dangerous than that. It's authority should come not from our ability to bolster our pet ideas with proof texts (often torn out of context) it should come from scriptures ability to transform our thoughts and actions. Book of the People should not mean that Scripture is at our mercy, but that we should be the people who are shaped by the book. But we do this by relating to the Book - so ironically it never stops being the book of the people (which it always has been - even when it was written it was written as the book of the people) provided that we always remain the people of the book (the people who's identity and orientation are shaped by the Bible).

Join us, I'll spend the first night talking about what has happened that has shaped our relationship to scripture as it is today. The second night I want to look at at least two strategies that folks are using to challenge the form our relationship with text has taken. Those two are a return to text as story and a return to the notion of communities of interpretation. These are not the only strategies, but they open up hope for new shapes of our relationship with scripture.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Game Summit!

Game Summit 2011

Last year I took my daughter and her friend for a whole day of gaming. So much fun. My daughter even won a copy of Monopoly City. This is a very friendly atmosphere, which is different for a gaming conference. Consider hanging out with us this Family Day Weekend!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

HP Lovecraft

I recently gave a very brief review of my pick for book of the year. Of course I had to pick an unusual suspect cause this year I've been jazzing on Cthulu Mythos by the creator himself - Howard Phillips Lovecraft. HP died 30 years before I made my entrance onto the stage called life, but his work really resonates with me. First of all he writes horror when horror wasn't about slashers and gore and gross out factor. Rather, HP writes in layers, layers of "I don't dare continue the story ... but I must!" It is, as I said at Julies blog, delicious. I think the reason it resonates so strongly with me is that as a theologian I have the inquisitive nature of the academics in Lovecraft's novels and I traffic in the world of mystery, depth and even the unthinkable things that keep me up at night. I know the drive of not being able to let go of an idea even if it challenged the very foundations of the beliefs I hold so dear.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Longing for Middle Ground

I've been thinking a lot lately about how easy it is to polarize issues. A recent blog post over at the Ontario ThoughtWorks blog has sparked a conversation regarding the content of one of our courses. I had to admit that the course was not one I'd investigated much - I know the couple that developed it and appreciate them greatly. For me the thing that comes out strongly is that I really believe there can be a middle ground - a place where a variety of approaches and views and actually sharpen each other and bring out the best in each other. So I'm reticent to speak ill of any contribution that seems to be bearing good fruit - and even to struggle to find the fruit that its participants claim to see.

My buddy Mike came over and we were talking along similar lines. To paraphrase one of his observations, it is easy to employ cynicism to tear apart views we dislike, but harder to find out what it is in those views that is compelling. For me the compelling aspect is much more interesting than whether a view is right or wrong - and I am less and less convinced that right and wrong exist outside of contextual realities. Sorta like when Scot McKnight says that God's wisdom led God to inspire misogynistic scriptural texts - it is equally plausible that this is mere cultural capitulation and not a product of God's inspiration at all. (See Blue Parakeet, p.157.) But then we get into the whole debate about different views of inspiration and fall into that same trap of needing the one right thing instead of living in the tension of a reality that is much more messy than black and white will ever convey. What is compelling to me is why McKnight wants to frame it the way he does - and I think that has something to do with the way he understands tradition.

The reality is that sometimes the fruit isn't worth the cost. At some point that needs to be faced - but I think it can only humbly be reached when both sides are fairly heard. And I think that good methods and views can be horribly used - so having the high ground in a debate does not imply responsible application. Life gets pretty messy - which I why I long for the middle ground, the radical middle as some have called it. I know it is not always a realistic position - but it is where I feel the conversation needs to rest at least long enough for the polarized positions to be shaped by the other views.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Call for Papers - CETA

Call for Papers:

Canadian Evangelical Theological Association
Annual Meeting

University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University, Fredericton
May 29, 2011

The Executive of the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association (CETA) welcomes proposals for papers to be presented at the May 29, 2011 Annual Meeting to be held in conjunction with the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University in Fredericton.

CETA encourages submission of high quality papers on any topic of theological relevance to Canadian Evangelicalism. The theme for this year’s Congress is Coast and Continents: Exploring People and Places ( Papers which address this theme in relation to Canadian Evangelicalism are encouraged.

Papers should be scholarly but not highly specialized presentations aimed at an audience of scholars from across the spectrum of theological disciplines, including biblical studies and historical, systematic, moral and pastoral theology. Proposals from graduate students are welcome.

Proposals should be approximately 250 words in length and should be accompanied by a short CV. To facilitate anonymous review of proposals, please include your name, institutional affiliation, and contact information on a separate page from your paper proposal. All proposals should be submitted electronically to the address below in either Word or PDF format by January 31, 2011. Please entitle your email "CETA 2011 Paper Proposal." Papers chosen for participation will be notified by March 1, 2011.

Email all conference paper proposals to: Dr. Jeffrey McPherson
President, Canadian Evangelical Theological Association

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Evangelical Honesty?

Why is it that when evangelicals find a kindred spirit in another evangelical they say that person (or ministry) is thoroughly biblical (or biblical with some other choice adjective). Wouldn't it be more honest to say that you agree with their interpretation of Scripture rather than making the quite arrogant claim that the person (or ministry) in question is the one true (infallible) interpreter of scripture. Isn't it really the fact that you agree with them that you are trying to communicate? The frustrating thing is that if even 1% of those who claim to be biblical are right then we really have no clue what is the correct interpretation. And actually that is the point. The appeal to being biblical shouldn't be applied to theology, ministries and definitely not people. Sure a person can be a passionate reader and interpreter of the Bible - but then say that. I really respect folks who are passionate about the Bible. But until we get over this inflated notion of our own infallibility we will continue to unjustly use our interpretations to belittle and exclude others - and by others I mean those whose views are actually closest to our own.

OK rant mode off. I'll go back to reading a book about a person who the preface author happens to agree with and is probably just as thoroughly biblical as anyone else making that claim.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Course this Summer - THO 2176

I am offering a course at Saint Paul University this Summer called Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. It falls under the course code THO 2176 - Selected Topics in Christian Thought I. I was hoping they would choose this course (I had proposed three courses). Summer courses need to have a bit of zing to them, it is hard to compete with the Sun! When I have my syllabus put together I'll let folks know. If you ever wanted to take or audit a class at Saint Paul - this could be just the one for you. Saint Paul is a really great learning environment.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Unity and Diversity of Evangelical Biblical Hermeneutics

I really enjoy the little book edited by Robert Johnston The Use of the Bible in Theology: Evangelical Options. Here is a bit of a teaser from his introduction.

Although understandable, "the longing for a tradition that will make sense out of our evangelical tower of Babel, the recoil from self-serving exegesis, and the dissatisfaction with the miserable and stultifying parochialism of much evangelicalism" should not cause us to opt for an authoritative creed (and an authoritative church resting behind the creed). For which creed is to chosen, and why? Or which Church Fathers are to be thought correct? Peter Abelard once illustrated the diversity of viewpoints among the early Fathers by citing one hundred and fifty examples in which they widely disagreed. Among the myriad of creeds and confessions that have been written, there simply is no univocal testimony.
R. Johnston, The Use of the Bible in Theology, 9.

I will be spending a lot more time with this book in the future. It is brilliant that it captures a sense of the range of methodologies and struggles within evangelical theologies - as each attempts to contribute a faithful biblical theology that is honest about its preconceptions.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Eco-friendly? Well I definitely try.

I saw this pic at failblog and found it profound actually. In some ways all our attempts to be eco-friendly will fail, and as someone who tries really hard it is so depressing when you find out something you thought was a good response still has troublesome implications. The problem, as I see it, is that we keep looking at solutions at a micro or individualistic (atomistic) level - but the problems are really all at a macro level. So the only really adequate solution is a macro solution - that is to change the way we think and behave on a grand scale. While transforming individuals' patterns of behaving is helpful - it will not stem the time of the ecological destruction that marks our era. The ironic thing is that without the individual change - macro change won't happen. So we are left with the honest frustration of this table.

My friend Kadry sent me his new years wishes for an "environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress year". I think he nails something really important that gets at the notion of macro. The response is not a simple one. It can't just be summed up in "do this" or "don't do that". It has to be a radical change in how we think, and it is more complex than any of us want to hear. But it will never happen as long as we treat that complexity with a stress response. And that is what I tend to do. I tend to let it overwhelm me. I know for some it leads to apathy, but not me - it is worse, it leads to a sort of anxiety that cripples my response. Simply because I do care and have become convinced that God cares too (and that God cares if we care, which is part of what I think needs desperately to happen in many of our hearts). So how do we craft a good news in the face of our day?

This is where I think the force of hope has to come into play. Without hope we cannot respond. I know I don't have the energy in me. I find it hard to face the fact that I might be complicit in yet another evil even when I am doing what I think is the good. Like I said, I don't have the energy in me. But I am convinced that God does. Here is where hope, for me, has to be coupled to something bigger than ourselves. Hope has to be rooted in One that is at work throughout the world working redemptively and gracefully towards the future that only God can imagine. And hope says that we get to participate in that. Hope says that all our mistakes will be subsumed into an overwhelming trajectory towards the God who not only holds together all things, but longs for the best in all things - and for those of us who place the cross at the center of this - is willing to pay whatever cost is necessary to see that joy unfold one day. Hope isn't about waiting, but it is about participating in a meaningful way. Hope is never fatalistic, it is always enthusiastic - filled with God.

So my wish for us all, this new year, is the same as my friend Kadry's. May we all have an "environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress year", that is a year in which hope overcomes all the stresses we experience when we work for the good in a world that is so in need of good news.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year

Just tucked in the last of my girls. My wife went to bed earlier, tired from a busy couple of days, so I played Killer Bunnies with the girls until 3 minutes to midnight. We did the countdown with the TV and I tucked them in. All is well. We got out for an early fireworks show too, so it was a pretty good night for us.

Hope this new year brings you all joy and peace.